Freedom and Responsibility!


Freedom means the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. Responsibility means the state or fact of being accountable, or to accept blame for something. We hear these words regularly, especially regarding the Press or the digital media. In the autocratic regimes, the word freedom is meaningless as everything right or wrong is decided by the governments. In a democracy, there are disputes about these words. Freedom is well explained by a funny anecdote. A Russian and an American are discussing freedom of expression in their countries. The American says, “In my country, I can bad mouth our President. Most likely, I will get away with it.” The Russian smiles and says, “We also have equal freedom in my country. I can curse the American President anytime. I will definitely get away with it.”

Two important events took place recently in India and the United States of America, the two largest democracies in the world. In India, the Press Trust of India published a news item; they interviewed the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi. In the interview, the Ambassador made a one-sided statement and blamed the Indian Government for the fracas that took place between the Indian Army and the Chinese Army at Galwan. PTI gave this news. With the current strong sentiments against China, Prasar Bharati, a government-controlled news agency, blamed PTI. They said that PTI published a news item which is anti-India. PTI is a cooperative which gives the yeomen service of news collection and distribution. It is established as a reliable news agency. Prasar Bharati pays about Rs.6.5/ crores (65 million) to PTI as its contribution every year. If Prasar Bharati breaks the pact with PTI, PTI will be in big trouble, financially.

The second event took place in the US. Based on the policies of Facebook, Coca Cola, Nike, and many other companies decided to stop advertising on Facebook. The reason was the policy about banning hate speeches or about the false news. FB started censoring hate speeches after Floyd episode, but they did not act on similar statements or expressions made by President Trump. Their argument was that when the President says something, it is a policy matter for the nation. Should the President’s policy statements be banned? So according to them, it was important news. But FB business is entirely dependent on the advertisements given by organisations like Nike and Coca Cola. Ultimately they have toed the line, and now Trump hate speeches also get banned.

It is a very critical situation, and honestly, I may not have the right answers. In the complex world, the news gets gathered in different ways. There are rules and regulations which many follow, but some do not comply. What is right or wrong, history will judge. It is a well-known fact that newspapers, news sites, TV channels have corporate policies. These policies are based on the “corporate board” or the owner. The news items will show the “colour” approved by the top bosses. In crude language, the entities are sold. So when you hop from A to B to C, we see different versions of the same news. At the end of the day, an average person gets confused. Then there are mouthpieces owned by some political parties. Mouthpieces “advice” the world on subjects of how to run the country. They teach the generals how to fight a war in the harsh terrain of Himalayas. It is okay if their party cannot run a city government efficiently. Such editors, the anchors of news channels and the “analysts” of all hues always ride on a high horse. For them, everything is one article away or one grilling interview away.

I am not saying that we should ban these entities. They have a definite role to play in a democracy. Many valuable news items that remain hidden in the debris of news that gets generated. Some organisations, some authorities or governments are trying to hide them. Investigative journalism helps bring out many such hidden items. Bofors case during Rajeev Gandhi’s time was a classic case which needed to be exposed. Such exposes are necessary for any society and must be brought out. Even this one example that I have quoted can become controversial because of the people connected with Rajeev Gandhi, and his party will not like what I have written. My idea is not to write something sensational or controversial but to try and analyse the need for such investigations. The investigations, in my opinion, are an essential part of our society. But I want to share a couple of stories that I saw on a news channel.

There was a piece of top breaking news sensationalising the failure of the central Government to procure sixty thousand ventilators in time. A tender was floated for this item and orders were placed on 14th May to be completed by 30th June. Ventilators till then, were all imported. Due to Corona pandemic, it would have been challenging to get them from abroad. Many companies developed them quickly, locally. Based on the feedback of their capabilities, orders were placed for fifty thousand ventilators. By 30th June only one company supplied its quota, and all others failed due to various reasons.

A highly complex product was being tried by Indian companies, including some large organisations. But they collectively were unable to supply their quota within a stipulated time. Now the news headline is “Government failed to procure ventilators on time.” Twenty thousand ventilators were procured, and the completion date was 30th June. The news item was discussed on 5th July. One company completed its quota and must have told the news channel that we have no orders though we have completed our contract. (This company can supply 2500 ventilators per month) The news channel generalised the news and blamed it on the Government. The last date for completion was 30th June, the performance needs to be analysed. Based on this data, the new orders can be placed. TRP, jingoism, channel policy? Your decision, friends.

The same channel has this story about a COVID patient who died because the Ambulance came late. Bangalore has suddenly seen the surge of COVID patients. Ambulances have a protocol that after each COVID patient is taken in the vehicle, it is thoroughly disinfected and sanitised. Bangalore is not geared up for the surge; hence there is a shortage of ambulances. The Ambulance reached the home and was told to park away from their home. It was done to avoid neighbours knowing about Corona infection. Is Corona infection a stigma? The patient tried to walk towards the Ambulance. Half-way through he collapsed and died! So much for delay caused by the Ambulance. But the story continued in the same vein on the channel.

Why sensationalise something when there is no sensation? Could TRP be the only reason? Or the ego does not allow these channels to say, “Oh! Sorry, it was our mistake.” They are never wrong!

After writing the piece, I am still confused! What is important, the news or a piece of suitable news? Ultimately, FB and Twitter of this world check for the hate speech using algorithms. Algorithm before Trump episode condoned the President even if he promoted hate speech or shared the fake news. Specifications for the algorithms are written by a human being who follows the company policies. Is sharing the Chinese Ambassador’s blaming India right thing or it should be treated as anti-national? If political parties keep bickering about everything in this world, how the generated news should be treated? They talk against the Prime Minister of the country as well as the armed forces. Should this be treated as treason? I am not sure. The jury is still out!


Modernity, Life’s full circle!

 

Oldage3A couple of days back, I was talking to a classmate of mine. I had called to wish her on her 70th birthday! I was pleased when she said, “Pramod, I feel as if I am around 50 or 55 but surely not 70!” The in and around 70 generations, was born after India got independence from the British in 1947. Our behaviour, thinking and attitude depend on our personal experiences, and the way society acts. Under Britishers, the Indian public, government officials had a different attitude towards Goras! Indians would treat Britishers with deference. My father was a police officer, and whenever he spoke of Britishers, I could feel that he would talk with a lot of respect to the Britishers. It was the result of 150 years of British dominance. My father, otherwise, was not a docile personality. Such an attitude could be seen in the sports arena too! Sunil Gavaskar was the first cricketer who showed “attitude” with his bat and then as a person against foreigners.

Later generations have changed; it can be seen in the behaviour of Tendulkars and Kohlis! As people started travelling internationally and met foreigners regularly for business or otherwise, the change was seen in society, in general. But change is not seen on personal levels in certain areas of life. Lately, I see people writing emotional stories and sharing their views about family-related issues. Our generation has become, so-called old, but due to migration, our children could be anywhere in the world right from Timbuktu to Rio de Janeiro; the children have spread for work and due to immigration. The result is that the parents live “alone” as per current discussions. When husband and wife are both around, how can they be alone?

The thought of lonely parents is mainly due to love but also due to unchanged attitude towards life. The post-independence generation did not migrate as much as the current generations do. They were in touch with the base more often. The life expectancy during that period was much less compared with today. The males from the older generation died just after retirement. In those days, the nuclear families had not come up. Hence the retired parents would continue to live in the joint family. They never felt “alone”.

Probably in various stories or write-ups I read (I call them sob stories which friends don’t like), people mix up the words “Alone” and “Loneliness”. When the parents are together, they are not alone by definition. But they can be lonely. But to me, loneliness is the isolation that comes with an expectation unmet, a feeling unreturned. According to my thinking, this is the crux of the matter.

Both parents and children would become and remain unhappy if they do not train their minds to become detached. Life will be much easier if there are no expectations. The closeness and love between them are natural, but remaining too attached causes all the issues. When people live in different cities, states or nations, you cannot expect anybody to be available at the drop of a hat! In today’s business and work scenario, work pressures are high. People are sometimes even worried to take their annual holidays lest they become redundant in today’s competitive world. What does the world detach mean? It means disconnected. Synonyms for detaching are dispassionate or uninvolved.

Once both sides learn to remain detached, life becomes much more manageable. My generation has been luckier than our parent’s generation. We had the benefits of better education, slightly better family finances, more opportunities than the previous generations. We have travelled in bullock carts as well as in Concordes! We have written letters on postcards, and we are using WA and FB! Our life and lifestyle have changed from the rationing of foods to plenty of everything. We bought Coca Cola for 25 paise; now we don’t mind paying Rs.250/ for a cup Coffee!

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My friend HK and his wife are in this photo. They go around on their bikes all over Pune district regularly.

Now my suggestion is that we should also change our thinking about relationships and responsibilities! We also have the benefit of better health compared to the older generation. Should our thought processes also not become modern? When we have done so many things during our working days, why can’t we manage our lives post the 70’s? What is the big deal? Should we be dependent on our children for support during this golden phase? Financial dependence and needs can be different for each individual and family. These requirements should be resolved by each family but besides that, why we cannot be independent of children? There could be health issues. Your child may be living in the same city, or maybe she lives 100 km from where you live. That does not mean that the children will have time to help and support you regularly.

On similar lines, children should also understand that your parents growing older does not mean that they are helpless or lonely. The technology that has brought back your old friends, your classmates, are also being used by your parents. They are also having their alumni meets. They meet their friends, and in some cases maybe their ex-flames! Life is changing; there is more openness. We hear of cases where people are meeting each other for companionships. In case of death of one of the spouses, parents of both sexes look for friendship, companionship or in some cases remarriage too! The parents are mature enough or sometimes may not be mature enough. But it is their life; children can give suggestions but let the seniors take the decisions about life.

The seniors should think like what my classmate said the other day. The cliché “age is just a number” becomes relevant. Health permitting, you need not “feel” old. It is up to us! I have come across people who are of the same age as me but talk and feel like a 90-year-olds. I had shared a story about the parents of my Japanese friend. The father is 93, and the mother is 87. The father regularly goes out and travels by Metro to get their groceries etc. It is because they must have decided to remain independent of the children.

Parents, venture out in the bad, bad world, and then you will realise that it is a good, good world! Children, don’t you worry too much about your parents; after all, they are the ones who have brought you up! There is some chance that they know something about the world, is it not! Don’t go overboard about splurging on your parents; they know that you also have your own life! You need to take that holiday to see the midnight Sun! Your children will be going to Oxfords and Harvards of this world! Be sure you use your Video WhatsApp or Google Duo or Skype once in a while. You need not give them iPhone so that you can use Facetime! They are happy with what they have!

I am just saying be realistic, be practical. I humbly request to those who write “Sob Stories” on WA or FB about lonely, old parents. Some parents can get into unhappy mode again, reading such stories. Please leave them alone, let them lead their life (they will be there to support you when you need). But don’t forget that they can live happily on their own!

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